Asher-smith wins GB’S first female sprint medal at global championships for 36 years
Seldom has a British athlete cast aside the burden of history with such a majestic flourish.
It had been 36 years since a female sprinter from this country won a medal at global championships, but for Dina Asher-smith the wait was a mere quirk of fate. Abiding only by her own remarkable standards and expectations, she made light of the pressure here in Doha last night, producing an outstanding run in the 100metres final to take silver behind Jamaica’s Shelly-ann Fraser-pryce.
That she did so in a national record of 10.83sec, two hundredths inside her personal best, underlined her reputation for rising to the most daunting challenges. Asher-smith had kept her counsel since arriving in Qatar, careful not to listen to or engage with the hype, and her approach worked wonders, yielding the major medal that her extravagant talent deserved.
The magnitude of the feat can hardly be underestimated. Not since Kathy Smallwood-cook took bronze at the inaugural worlds, in Helsinki in 1983, has a British female sprinter taken a podium place on so august a stage. The triple European gold that propelled her to wider prominence in Berlin last summer – a display that British Athletics’ Neil Black described as the “performance of a lifetime” – turned out to be a mere prelude.
“I’m definitely a championship girl,” Asher-smith said, stirring anticipation that she could turn silver into gold in Wednesday night’s 200m final, in the absence of Bahamian favourite Shaunae Milleruibo. “I try not to overthink things. I just love the occasion. I love the intensity and the pressure.”
Asher-smith’s medal was Britain’s 100th at world championships, and few have felt more auspicious. She has consistently built on those breakout runs in Germany, even narrowly beating Fraser-pryce at this year’s Diamond League meeting in Brussels. While her rival reasserted her supremacy here, recording a time of 10.71, the 12th fastest on record, the world remains hers to conquer, not least at the Tokyo Olympics in 10 months’ time.
She has followed an ascetic regime in Doha, denying herself her usual indulgences of bread rolls, wine and sweets in the knowledge she could leave nothing to chance. The day of the race, she had avoided the spotlight by binge-watching episodes of The Great British Bake Off. It all helped to produce the quickest run of her life, even if she admitted to a pang of regret that she had fallen short of gold.
“I’m a perfectionist, and I felt there were little things I could improve,” she said. “Gold sounded better. But if somebody’s going to run 10.71 …”
For the moment, Fraser-pryce, resplendent here in rainbow-dyed hair, looks unassailable. This was her fourth world title in the 100, a mark not even compatriot Usain Bolt could manage. She has now dipped under 10.80 14 times, more than any other female sprinter past or present. Having already run the fastest ever heat at major championships, she only increased her momentum through the rounds, culminating in this stunningly dominant emphatic coup de grace.
“I can’t believe it, especially coming back from having a baby,” said Fraser-pryce, who gave birth the day after missing the 100m final at London 2017.
The delivery was by caesarean section, increasing the difficulty of her return to elite competition. “Physically, it has been a long journey since,” she said. “I was unable to lift weights on my back, I could only lift hand weights. You worry if you’ll even be able to come back. But it just made me work harder.”
Aptly, she held her son, Zyon, aloft throughout her lap of honour. “It’s hard for women to take a break from sprinting,” she argued, having just shattered preconceptions about the limits of motherhood. “People believe that you should wait until your career is finished.”
At 32, Fraser-pryce is surely the finest women’s sprinter ever seen, but Asher-smith, nine years her junior, is emerging fast as her heir presumptive. “Dina inspires people to think that you don’t just have to be from the US or Jamaica to succeed in the 100m,” the champion said. “You can come from somewhere else.”
Fraser-pryce’s eye-watering time indicated that there is still a gap to bridge, but on this evidence it is a task scarcely beyond Asher-smith, or her coach, John Blackie, who has scrupulously nurtured her abilities. It was a pity that there could not be more people inside the Khalifa International Stadium to toast her achievement, but one sensed she could not care less. The breadth of her smile, not to mention her tears, told you that she appreciated her feat, even without the audience.
Still giddy with delight, she said: “I’ve worked so hard for this, and I hope that I’ll go on to do bigger things. A PB, a national record – that is more than you can ask for in a final. Shelly-ann did a fantastic performance and that’s why she’s an absolute legend. I’ve never done 100m at a world championships before. It was a new experience for me, so I’m super-happy. It’s a team effort getting me on this track and making sure I can mentally go into an event that I’ve never done before and come out with a silver medal.”
Already, the dream of gold in the 200m, her favourite event, looms large in her imagination. “We’ve all got to dare to dream,” she grinned. And with that she disappeared back into the Doha night, her first ambition fulfilled and her appetite whetted. She arrived in this city a star. She could yet leave it a sensation.
Dina Asher-smith celebrates her silver medal last night